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Sympathy for the hobo 

Adam Leech hits the road with a nickel and a song

The last time America went through severe economic difficulties, my great-grandma was my age. Of course, at 22 she was already a mother of four and the wife of a farmer who, when the market crashed, suddenly found himself farmless.

At that point, their life's soundtrack should have led with something like Woody Guthrie's 1941 ballad "Pastures of Plenty": "We come with the dust and we go with the wind ... Every state in the Union us migrants have been." With all their worldly goods tied to the roof of their Model T, my ancestors fled the Midwest and worked their way to Florida.

Eighty years later, Adam Leech (of Reverb and Leechpit fame) is following that same route, hitching rides and cadging meals hobo-style, as a sort of modern Depression odyssey. Unlike my grandparents, Leech actually does have a soundtrack — and a mission.

As one of the last practitioners of the metal-engraving art known as the "hobo nickel," which traditionally involves reworking buffalo nickels to create new images, Leech intends his odyssey to be an experiment in how far his engraved coins can take him. His objective is the Jan. 8 annual Original Hobo Nickel Society meeting in Tampa, Fla., but with no money and no itinerary, getting there hobo-style will be an adventure in its own right. That's why he's bringing a cameraman.

"I think it's an interesting enough story where if we tell it right, we could write our own ticket," Leech says. "I'm not worried about that part at all. It's a movie with a zero-dollar budget, so we've got nothing to lose — nothing to lose but a nickel."

For both Leech and cameraman Jim Dziura, a Colorado College alum whose credits include six months filming Celtic punk band Flogging Molly, a large part of "telling it right" comes down to the music.

"We're going to be real picky cause we're both music fans above all else, and so it will be really well-thought-out," he says. "The hobo tradition has always been intertwined with music, even as far as punk rock goes ... those kids hop trains, they're modern-day hobos."

Leech has already gathered a wide pool of talent to provide the musical core of the as-yet-unnamed project, including hipster darlings and big-time rockers as well as the obligatory old-style country and blues.

"We do have a talented group already behind it," he enthuses. "[Local singer-songwriter] Nick Davey is writing an original piece. We don't even know exactly what we're going to use from any of them, but between the Mini Mansions [headed by the bassist for Queens of the Stone Age], Nathen Maxwell and the Original Bunny Gang [headed by Flogging Molly's bassist], Kimya Dawson, the [Haunted] Windchimes, we've got some well-known acts." Considering that Dawson's last major soundtrack contribution was to the 2007 smash hit Juno, her participation bodes well for the success of Leech's film.

Meanwhile, Leech points to the aforementioned Windchimes as a prime example of the kind of musical themes he wants to emphasize in the project.

"I've known them for years," he says of the band, "and I love their music. Every song's got bits with what we're doing: waiting for trains, being on the road, being broke ..."

scene@csindy.com

  • Adam Leech hits the road with a nickel and a song

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